The state of political deadlock that Egypt has been experiencing since the coup on 3 July, 2013, has negatively affected all other fields. The economic crisis is exacerbating, foreign debts are rising, morals are declining, production is regressing, scientific development is shrinking and military power is being put to harsh tests, the latest of which is what happened in Sudan. Before that, there was the battle of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the islands of Tiran and Sanafir. There is nothing more than some road and bridge projects, as well as new cities that the regime can boast about and highlight, considering it a miracle of the new world!
With the start of preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for next year 2024, there was a wave of expectations that the regime would ease this deadlock by starting national dialogue sessions, giving them a reasonable ceiling for discussions, and covering them in the media. There was also the expectation that there would be more amnesties for prisoners of conscience, stopping new arrests and easing the crackdown on the media, but none of this has happened. The national dialogue is still stalling at its first stage, and even the announced date for the start of the sessions, 3 May, is doubtful, based on previous experiences. The release of prisoners has been very slow in the last period, and it stopped, with arrests continuing, and recently affecting well-known activists such as Dr Hani Suleiman and members of political parties participating in the national dialogue, such as the Constitution Party and the Dignity Party.
The latest negative sign is the summoning of Engineer Yahya Hussein Abd Al-Hadi, the former spokesperson for the Civil Movement, for questioning on charges of possessing leaflets! This is referring to his posts on Facebook, in some of which he criticised the act of the upcoming presidential elections that will take place in light of a state of complete political deadlock, and the imprisonment and exclusion of potential candidates. He also called, in some of them, for the release of Brotherhood prisoners, including the Supreme Guide, his deputy, the group’s officials and members of parliament. It is clear that there was an intention to re-imprison Yahya Hussein, but perhaps the large campaign of solidarity with him contributed to stopping his imprisonment.
The Egyptian regime is in a flood of internal and external problems and challenges. The foreign debt has exceeded $160 billion; there are crises in paying its instalments and interests, and the major projects that it is proud of suffer from large deficits that are hindering their completion. Moreover, the IMF continues to pressure it to stop some of these projects that are useless, while it approved a new floatation of the Egyptian pound after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, and accelerated the privatisation of public companies, including projects belonging to the Army.
Despite the regime’s commitment to these demands in principle, it is facing a problem in selling the projects proposed for privatisation due to the loss of foreign investors’ (both governments and companies) trust in the Egyptian economy and in the local currency, which awaits further devaluation.
On the security front, the battle of terrorism in Sinai has not ended, despite Sisi’s claim that it has. In addition, security risks have also increased from the west (Libya) and from the south (Sudan). Perhaps the most recent challenge is the capture of Egyptian soldiers at Merowe Airport at the hands of the Rapid Support Forces and, although these forces promised to secure the soldiers, and their promise to return them safely to Egypt, their keenness to broadcast videos of the moment of their capture was a great blow to the Egyptian national dignity and angered many Egyptians who saw the footage.
With the increasing challenges and pressures on the regime, many expect the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in 2024 to be different from the previous ones in 2014 and 2018, but the indicators, so far, are going in the wrong direction. This is despite the fact that the regime seemed keen this time to present a more controlled play, through secret negotiations with some leaders of the civil movement (which includes several liberal and left wing parties from the 30 June camp) to persuade it to present presidential candidates while ensuring that it obtains a voter turnout of around 30 per cent, and to provide a suitable environment for it.
However, many political forces at home and abroad have, so far, seemed more determined to invest in the presidential elections to break this political impasse, even partially. Therefore, the civil movement itself put forward a number of demands preceding the elections that provide an appropriate environment for them, including ensuring the freedom and safety of candidates, the freedom of the media, the neutrality of state institutions, acceptance of UN and EU supervision, counting the votes and announcing the results in the sub-committees, etc. Meanwhile, political figures at home issued a statement titled “Open the Public Space” that included a warning of a popular explosion as a result of this deadlock. It also stressed that there is no real guarantee of fair elections other than Al-Sisi not running in the elections. The statement demanded the opening of the public sphere, the release of prisoners of conscience, and acceptance of UN supervision. These are the same demands adopted by the Egyptian opposition abroad, in addition to other provisions such as the removal of constitutional and legislative restrictions on the candidacy of some people, and the lifting of restrictions imposed on the media, parties, associations, unions, civil society organisations, etc.
The opposition realises that the upcoming elections will not be much different from the previous ones, but it also realises the need to invest in them to achieve political gains, and to make a breakthrough, even a little one, on the political scene. Most likely, this opposition will resort to the boycott option if the regime ignores its demands as expected and, in this case, the alternative will be a major popular explosion, as warned by the political figures’ statement.